Better Know A President XV: James Buchanan

31 03 2009


-Served from 1857-1861

-Elected from Pennsylvania

-Before serving as the President, he also served in the Pennsylvania House, the US House for 10 years, US Ambassador to Russia and then England, US Senator, and Sec. of State. He also served in the War of 1812 as a volunteer, although he was wholly against the war.

-During his time as Sec. of State, he established the Oregon Treaty between Britain and the US, which defined the boundaries between American and Canadian land. Prior to this time, both British and Americans claimed ownership of the area around Puget Sound (which includes modern day Seattle and Tacoma). He also was a major supporting author in the Ostend Manifesto (previous mentioned under Pres. Franklin Pierce) while serving as Ambassador to the United Kingdom. (This makes me wonder why the Democrats nominated him over other politicians with less suspect pasts)

-Buchanan is the only President to have remained a single all through his life. He was once engaged to a woman, Ann Coleman, who was the daughter of a major head of an iron business in Pennsylvania. He never took the engagement seriously, and shortly after Ann broke off the engagement, she died. The doctor who was caring for her said that she was “hysterical”, and probably had died from an overdose of laudanum. Buchanan was devastated and vowed never to seek another wife. He was suspected of being a homosexual, however, as he lived with William Rufus King (VP under Pierce) for a number of years while in Washington.

-Buchanan was nominated for the Presidency by the Democrats for the 1856 Presidential election. They did this primarily because slavery had become such a dominating issue in politics, and Buchanan was away in England while the infamous Kansas-Nebraska act was enacted. In the election, he competed against the Republican Party’s first candidate (the Whig Party was dissolved, after slavery split the party) John C. Fremont, and the Know-Nothing candidate, former Pres. Millard Fillmore. Because the former Whig base was divided between the two new parties, and because Buchanan was pro-slavery, he won the election. The entire south supported Buchanan, which was enough in itself to win him the election. It’s important to note, when looking at Buchanan’s presidency, that while he accepted the nomination, he did not want to be President.

-During his Presidency, he strived for citizens to accept the Supreme Court’s authority over issues like slavery. He was also President during many infamous disasters, including the Dred Scott decision (which stated that Congress could not force new territories to outlaw slavery) Bleeding Kansas (Buchanan tried to get Kansas admitted as a slave state, through his efforts in supporting the Lecompton Constitution, which limited the rights of non-slave holders), the Panic of 1857 (a major economic depression), and the Utah War (A literal war between the state of Utah and the US. Brigham Young revolted against the government, after many people in Utah were tired of anti-Mormon sympathies in Congress and the White House. Buchanan himself slammed polygamy and the Mormons during his campaign). All of these incidents destroyed people’s support of Buchanan. He stated in his inaugural address that he would not seek reelection, but even if he had tried it would have been highly unlikely he would have even been re-nominated.

-By the time he was nearing the end of his Presidency, he was being investigated by a committee to see if he had done anything which would be grounds for impeachment.

-The government was all but halted after Republicans saw a majority in the House after the elections in 1860. The Southern Democrats could not get anything passed, which angered them immensely. The Democrats were completely divided after their convention in 1860. Southern Dems left, and instead nominated their own man for president, current VP under Buchanan John Breckenridge. By this time, many southern states were discussing secession or had already seceded from the Union, which Buchanan did nothing about. He only recognized that they could not be legally stopped.

-Both Buchanan and his predecessor Pierce are consistently ranked among the worst Presidents in history, beause of their failure to address the coming Civil War adequately.


When President James Polk appointed James Buchanan to serve as secretary of state in 1845, ex-President Andrew Jackson was greatly perturbed. “But, you yourself appointed him minister to Russia in your first term,” Polk reminded him. “Yes, I did,” Jackson admitted. “It was as far as I could send him out of my sight, and where he could do the least harm. I would have sent him to the North Pole if we had kept a minister there!”

When some women visited the White House once, they said to Buchanan, “We have looked all through this house-it is very elegant and well kept; but we have noticed one deficiency. That you have no lady of the house.” To which Buchanan responded, “That, madam, is my misfortune, not my fault.”


I like the noise of democracy.

What is right and what is practicable are two different things.

(To Pres. Lincoln): If you are as happy in entering the White House as I shall feel on returning to Wheatland, you are a happy man indeed.

The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.